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Medieval Sourcebook:
Sidonius Apollinaris:
Theodoric of the Visigoths, c. 460

Davis Introduction: Theodoric II reigned over the Visigoths in South Gaul from 453 to 466 A.D. He was the grandson of Alaric the Conqueror.

He is a prince well worthy of being known even by those not admitted to his intimate acquaintance, to such a degree have Nature and God, the sovereign arbiter of all things, accumulated in his person gifts of varied excellence. His character is such that even envy itself, that universal accompaniment of all royalty, could not defraud him of his due praise.

You ask me to describe his daily outdoor life. Accompanied by a very small suite he attends before daybreak the services of the Church in his own household; he is careful in his devotions, but although his tone is suppressed, you may perceive that this is more a matter of habit with him than of religious principle. The business of administration occupies the rest of the morning. An armed aide-de-camp stands beside his throne; his band of fur-clad bodyguards is admitted to the Palace in order that they may be near to the royal presence; while in order that there may not be too much noise, they are kept out of the room; and so they talk in murmurs, inside a railing and outside the hangings of the hall of audience.

Envoys from foreign powers are then introduced. The King listens much and says little. If their business calls for discussion, he puts it off; if for prompt action, he presses it forward. At eight o'clock he rises, and proceeds to examine either his treasure, or his stables. When he goes to hunt, he does not deem it suitable to the royal dignity to carry his bow upon his own person; when, however, .....anyone points out to him a wild animal or bird, he puts out his hand, and receives his bow unstrung from a page: for, just as he regards it as an undignified thing to carry the weapon in its case, so does he deem it unmanly it should be prepared by another for his use. He selects an arrow.....and lets fly, first asking what you wish him to strike. You make your choice and invariably he hits the mark; indeed if there is ever any mistake, it is oftener in the sight of him who points out the object than in the aim of him who shoots at it.

His banquets do not differ from those of a private gentleman. You never see the vulgarity of a vast mass of tarnished plate, heaped upon a groaning table by a puffing and perspiring slave. The only thing that is weighty is the conversation: for either serious subjects are discussed, or none at all. Sometimes purple, and sometimes fine silk are employed in adorning the furniture of the dining room. The dinner is recommended by the skill of the cookery, not by the costliness of the provisions: ---the plate by its brightness, not by its massive weight. The guests are much more frequently called upon to complain of thirst, from finding the goblet too seldom pressed, than to shun ebriety by refusing it. In brief, one sees there the elegance of Greece and promptness of Italy, the splendor of a public along with the personal attention of a private entertainment, likewise the regular order of a royal household. After dinner Theodoric either takes no siesta at all or a very short one. When he feels like it, he picks up the dice quickly, looks at them carefully, shakes them scientifically, throws them at once, jocularly addresses them, and awaits the result with patience. When the cast is a good one he says nothing: when bad, he laughs; good or bad he is never angry, and takes both philosophically....

About three in the afternoon again come the cares of government, back come the suitors, and back those whose duty is to keep them at a distance. On all sides is heard a wrangling and intriguing crowd, which, prolonged to the royal dinner hour, then only begins to diminish; after that it disperses, every man to seek his own patron. Occasionally, though not often, jesters are admitted to the royal banquet, without, however, being permitted to vent their malicious raillery upon any persons present. When he has risen from the table, the guard of the treasury commences its nightly vigil: armed men take their station at all approaches to the palace, whose duty it will be to watch there during the first hours of the night.


From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), pp. 319-321.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text may have been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, August 1998
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